Waiting tables or being a barback are great skills to learn for one reason: Every place on Earth has restaurants and need employees to staff them. Here’s how to become a waiter or barback.
Once I decided I wanted to bartend, I certainly didn’t want to to start as a server or busser and work my way up for one main reason:
- I didn’t want to get STUCK in that position.
I thought it would take forever to move up and honestly, and I didn’t want to put in the time and effort. I’m lazy. But…
I did it anyway.
Right after bartending school I started bartending at private parties and with temp companies to get immediate money and bartending experience. But I also got a job as a server at Native New Yorker, a popular sports restaurant chain here in Phoenix, because I wanted restaurant experience in general even though before this time being a waiter was the last job on earth I’d ever take.
But I learned I love it.
For all the reasons I came to love working in a restaurant (its a challenge, flexible schedule, etc.) the MAIN reason was that I SOCIALIZED FOR A LIVING. Yup. Got paid to talk to people and make them happy. Awesome. Simply awesome.
Although bartending is certainly bees knees, here’s why serving can be even BETTER than bartending in some instances:
Benefits of being a server:
- A serving position is easier to get with or without experience.
- The hours are generally shorter. A bartender has to stay until close no matter what but a server goes home when there’s no customers.
- Conversely, the bar itself can be dead while the floor is packed. I can be playing a lot of solitaire as the bartender.
- The servers can talk to and joke around with each other a lot easier. The bartender is stuck behind the bar.
- One of the biggest benefits of all is the ability to WALK AWAY. As a bartender you sometimes get trapped into dull, energy sucking conversations you wish you could walk away from but you’re stuck there behind the bar with no where to go. The way a bar is designed puts the bartender facing the customer at all times so there is little option to get away.
Benefits of being a barback:
- You get a feel of how crazy it can get behind a bar in a packed house without having to deal with computers, taking multiple orders, or processing payments. This is good for a beginner.
- You get to experience the not so cool side of bartending like stocking cases of beer, lifting and changing kegs, re organizing the beer cooler, clearing the bartop and tables of empty bottles and glasses, keeping the ice, fruit, napkins, and straws stocked, and the best part of all, cleaning up the bathroom after someone puked all over it. If you still want to be a bartender after this then more power to you.
- And as mentioned above, you get to work in in a restaurant or bar. Bartenders aren’t the only ones that have fun.
- The most important thing to remember is that after you’ve put in some time paying your dues by being a hard worker as a server or barback, and it doesn’t look like you’ll be promoted to bartender anytime soon even after repeated requests, feel free to move on to another establishment. By this time you’ll have the experience that managers are looking for and it’ll be 100% easier to land another job somewhere else.
So how do you land a job as a server or barback?
The following article is the best one I’ve ever read on the subject. It’s by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, a bartender in Portland, Oregon, from his website at www.JeffreyMorgenthaler.com.
Ask Your Bartender: Bartending Schools
MONDAY, DECEMBER 18TH, 2006
I’m a fine art student who draws paints, does flash work, and have done print work. But I’m unemployed for the moment and thinking about bartending school as an alternative job till i get another graphic/web design position, I know bartending school isn’t a job but possibly a means to the end of being a bartender.
What do you think of the schools that are 40 hours and if it might be a reasonable investment?
Zach in St. Louis
I’m not a huge fan of bartending schools, and it’s not only because they make you believe that you’re learning valuable information as they cram 500 useless drink recipes into your brain. What I don’t like about bartending schools is that they make you think you’re actually going to find a job.
Sure, a bartending school is going to give you a bookful of recipes, and some resume-writing tips, and some of the bigger schools might even have some connections around town that will post job openings on their bulletin board. But here’s what they’re not telling you:
No professional bar manager is going to hire someone as a bartender straight out of school.
Sorry, kids, but it’s true. You don’t become a doctor, lawyer, or architect straight out of school, and the same goes for bartending. It takes training, time, and working your way up the ladder in order to be running the show on a Friday night.
If you’re not a complete idiot, you can get a job in a bar with no experience, and for half the cost of a bartending “school”. And I’m going to show you how.
Let’s say that a typical bartending course is forty hours long and costs $500, yet doesn’t get you a job. I’m going to bet that you can get a job for the same money or less in the same forty hours. Here’s what you do:
1. Pick your target wisely, Daniel-San. First, find a bar that you’d like to work in. To make things easy on yourself, make it a local bar and not a big chain. The bar you choose is going to be your target, and you’re going to slide on in before they know what happened.
Find out as much as you can about the establishment. Does it have staff turnover? If you picked my bar, you’d be out of luck – there are only two of us, and one of us is going to have to die in order for a shift to open up. That’s not the type of place you’re looking for. Conversely, there’s a bar in town that has an entirely new staff every six weeks – that’s probably not going to be a good job either, as the owners are obviously psychotic.
Pick a bar that’s staffed with people in your own demographic. If it’s staffed entirely by old ladies, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree as a 22 year-old guy. Look for a place that you’d fit in nicely.
2. Make The First Strike. Now it’s time to visit your target. Go in to the bar and have a drink. Alone. And bring a book. Timing is critical here. Nobody wants to talk to you on a Friday or Saturday night. Go in at night, when the decision-makers are likely to be working, and go in on a slow night. Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays are great times to hit your target.
Sit at the bar, preferably at one end, and order a beer. Yes, a beer. Don’t order a Lemon Drop, Mai Tai, or Long Island Iced Tea. You’re not here to get drunk, you’re here to have a drink and make an impression. Be polite, say please and thank you, offer to pay for the drink rather than running a tab, and tip appropriately. A dollar isn’t going to get you noticed, but a ten-spot is going to make you look like you want something. Leave your bartender three dollars for that beer. It’s a signal, and the bartender is going to assume you’re in the industry.
Now it’s time to thumb through your book. Remember, you’re not here to get drunk, you’re here to make an impression. With that three-dollar tip, you’re sitting pretty, and the bartender is probably going to pay attention to you. Be friendly, smile, and turn on the charm. Complement the bar.
Have another beer. Over-tip again. Ask the bartender, who is obviously taken by your charm and grace, his or her name. Get them to remember your name. Ask when they’ll be working again, and then leave.
3. Back Again? Repeat step two. This time, you’re going to already be in the bartender’s good graces. Repeat all of the steps exactly as you did the last time. By the end of your visit, your bartender is going to be dying to know who you are. He or she will probably ask what you do for a living. Tell them what you do, but keep it at that. Be polite and be sober. Ask your bartender what other places in town he/she would recommend that are similar. Make a note and visit those places as well. Ask questions. Seem interested.
4. Lather, Rinse, Repeat. By now, your bartender is going to be thrilled to see you walking through the door. Do everything as you’ve done it before. Order a beer (by now your bartender probably knows what you’re having), tip well, and talk politely. Do this again and again. You’re going to encounter other staff members, and soon the whole establishment will know who you are. Above all, be polite to everyone. You’ve been noticed, and the staff is happy to have you around.
5. Drop The Bomb now that you’ve insinuated yourself into the establishment, it’s time to let everyone know that you’re looking for a job, and that this is just the kind of place you’d love to work. How do you do that? You work it into casual conversation with your bartender. Don’t tell the door guy, or the cocktail waitress, or the manager. Tell your bartender, almost confidentially, that you have no experience, you want to learn the ropes, and that you’ve always wanted to be a barback. Yes, a barback.
Ask the bartender if they know anything open around town and keep your options open. You might not land a job here, but there might be another place that you can get your foot in the door. Ask around, and make sure you’ve been doing this same thing in some of the other bars your bartender mentioned in Step Two above.
6. Weaseling is What Separates Us From the Animals… Except the Weasel. Keep this up around town until you land a barbacking job. It might take a while, but something’s going to open up and you’re going to be the one who gets in there first. Why? Because everyone around town likes you by now. They know you’re looking, they know you’re a really great person, and you’re going to be the first one they think of then a job comes available.
7. Be Strong. Like Bull. Congratulations, it’s your first night on the job. You’ve got a try-out as a barback at one of the bars you selected, and now it’s time to show them that you’ve got what it takes. Show up early, never on time, and don’t even think about being late. Work hard, speak little, move quickly, and don’t complain, not once. This is what we’re all looking for in a barback, so be that person. You’ll get the job, trust me.
8. Know the Ropes. Now that you’re everyone’s favorite barback, and you’re working hard, never complaining, and never late, you’re going to use this time to get to know every single thing you can about the job. Ask questions. Be interested. Offer help. Because soon, you’re going to be offered a shift of your own.
Now, it might take weeks or even months, but you’re working behind a bar already, so be patient and suck it up. You’re getting a better education than you’re going to get in any bartending school, and they’re paying you to do it.
By now, you’ve probably already paid for the beers you drank a few weeks ago when you were scouting for targets. Relax!
9. Bite the Bullet. You’re going to be offered a shift of your own, but you’re not going to like it. In fact, you’re going to hate it. Why? Because it’s going to be the Tuesday day shift. Take it. I worked mornings and happy hours for years before I moved up to Friday and Saturday nights. Take the shift, but try to hang on to your late-night barbacking shifts. Remember, you’re still at the bottom of the ladder, so nothing is beneath you. Work whatever shifts they throw at you, and do the best possible job you can. Remember, you’re making money.
10. Who’s Laughing Now? Congratulations, you’ve just been offered a night shift. It’s a Monday, and it’s slow, but there is that one group that always comes in, so you’re guaranteed a few dollars. Suck it up, take the job, and do the best possible job that you can.
Hey, guess what? You’re a bartender. I’ll have a beer, please.
This is a fantastic article because it applies to getting server AND barback positions. Here is what I especially liked about it:
- Bringing a book with you when you visit the establishment. So many people come in and expect the me to entertain them for free that it’s such a relief to have someone that isn’t looking to suck up all the positive energy from me and provide their own entertainment. This will definitley make you be remembered.
- Not getting drunk when you go in. This one is huge. So many people come in, get zombie faced drunk, and ask if the place is hiring. Even if we were, we’re not going to tell you drunkie
- Being polite to EVERYONE, even the busser who doesn’t speak english. Most people in a restaurant are close friends regardless of their job title, and if you’re rude to any of them that’s an ENORMOUS strike against you. I don’t like it when people are rude to my friends and neither do you. Don’t do it.
- Networking with the bartender in different establishments. Again, the best jobs are usually aquired through who you know. Having contacts is very important. When most of us leave one restaurant and go work for another it’s because we had a heads up and an ‘in’ at another place.
- Being a hard worker that shows up on time and doesn’t complain. Self explanitory.
- Accepting the crappy shifts that are offered to you when you start out bartending. The bartenders working Friday and Saturday nights have earned it by putting in their time. It’s your turn.
Here’s another method of landing a server or barback job that can be used in conjuction with the networking method above.
It’s simple: Take action.
While making the rounds getting to know the different bartenders in different bars, take your resumé with your cover letter that you learned how to make here and hit up every place you would like to work at between the hours of 2pm – 5pm. That’s the slowest time for managers.
This acts like a shotgun or fishing effect where as getting to know bartenders is more of a sniper/hunting effect. I say shotgun/fishing effect because it blasts alot of areas at once and you’re ’throwing your line’ out there to see if anyone bites. It’s a numbers game. If you throw enough darts at the dart board, you’ll eventually hit the bullseye.
Just make a list of places that look interesting to you or places that are near where you live and see if you can land an interview.
Which brings up another point…
A resumé is for getting the interview, not the job. A bar/restaurant manager is a very busy person and may only have enough time to just schedule a better time for you to come back and talk to them.
You don’t get a second chance at a first impression so make the one minute or less you have to talk to the manger be the best one possible by dressing nice and not taking up too much of their time. They will appreciate it.
Don’t shoot yourself in the foot:
You might still be anxious to get behind the wood and want to skip the server/barback/busser route completely. It‘s normal to feel this way, and while becoming a bartender without working your way up has most definitely been done before and is possible, don’t count on it. Don’t sit around waiting for a lucky break. It won’t happen.
It’s better to be at the bottom of a ladder you want to climb than half way up one you don’t.
Remember take action! Working in a bar in some form is better than not at all.
Get started in this industry. Suck it up if need be, but believe me, you‘ll be glad you did.
“If you believe you can or you can’t, you’re right.” – Henry Ford
About the Author: Brandon
Brandon has written 3 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.
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